When food companies want to entice consumers to buy their sweetened products, they like to use the word “Honey sweetened” as a selling point. Sometimes, even when honey is present in tiny proportions compared to sugar (hello Honey Nut Cheerios). In most people’s minds, honey is a healthier alternative to sugar.
But what does the science say? Is honey truly a healthier choice?
What you need to know:
Honey is composed mostly of the monosaccharide molecules glucose and fructose, just like table sugar. It has a higher moisture content than table sugar, about 17% water. There are also small amounts of pollen, wax, and minerals to be found in honey.
One teaspoon of honey has 22 calories vs only 16 calories for sugar. This seems counter intuitive because a teaspoon of honey contains only 82% blend of sweeteners (the rest being water), vs 99.98% for table sugar. The caloric difference can be explained by the higher density of honey in a teaspoon compared to table sugar. 100 grams of sugar has 380 calories. The same amount of honey has just 300 calories, 27% less.
In sugar, the fructose and glucose molecules are bound together chemically into a molecule called sucrose. In honey, the fructose and glucose molecules are floating around separately. Fructose is sweeter than glucose and sucrose. In honey, there is slightly more fructose than glucose. That’s why honey is a bit sweeter than sugar. So despite a higher calorie count, you need less to feel the same amount of sweetness.
Honey has been found to have some antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, unlike sugar. The presence of trace minerals and vitamins may be viewed as an advantage, but the values are so low that honey can’t really be considered a source of nutrients. For example, you would need 40 cups of honey a day to reach your daily iron requirements. There are many other purported health benefits to honey, usually brought forth by organizations trying to promote its consumption.
Honey may contain a dormant bacteria called clostridium botulinum. It is extremely dangerous to babies – botulism can lead to death – and that’s why honey is not recommended under the age of 12 months.
Bottom line: Both honey and sugar should be consumed in limited amounts. Honey may have a slight edge, but excess consumption of either is a bigger danger to your health than the advantage of choosing one over the other.